Alfresco Dinner in the Vineyard – Joy Road Catering
Okanagan culinary adventures Olive Oil and Lemons Style: celebrating the first day of fall at an alfresco dinner in the vineyard by Joy road Catering at God’s Mountain Estate.
Continued from HERE.
A few weeks ago we purchased tickets for a vineyard dinner at God’s Mountain Estate B&B above Skaha lake, an event put on by God’s Mountain and the fabulous chefs from Joy Road Catering. I have been interested in attending one of these dinners but the events are sold out early in the season and I could only get tickets for that Sunday in October. We thought this would be an opportunity to take the boat out from Kelowna to Penticton, perhaps stay on it for a couple of nights and attend the dinner on Sunday.
After an adventurous 6 hours of motor-sailing to the south Okanagan and one (and only one) night on the boat we were settled in a downtown hotel, getting ready to leave for the dinner in the vineyard. The weather had turned by now and it was clear that the dinner was happening but not outside. They indicated that they had the option of moving it indoors. We drove along the east shore of Skaha lake toward God’s Mountain with anticipation, as I have heard so much about these dinners from others who attend them every year.
We turned at the unmarked exit off the road and drove up the long steep driveway to God’s Mountain and proceeded through the electric gate to the parking area in front of the main building. God’s Mountain Estate is a bed and breakfast situated on the eastern cliffs overlooking Skaha Lake south of Penticton. Sarah and Richard Allen fell in love with this gorgeous property, built by an eccentric pioneer couple, and left their island home to become the new owners of this 115 acres estate, including a vineyard, natural grasslands and beautiful grounds perched over a cliff overlooking the lake. On the property you can find fruits trees, vegetable and herb garden, a small swimming pool and even a pond. There are many places to sit, read, have coffee or enjoy a glass of wine and contemplate.
The mediterranean style rambling villa with white wash exterior houses 14 guests rooms, each with it’s own unique and eclectic decor and each opening to the breathtaking view of Skaha lake below. One of the rooms goes topless (roofless, gotcha), with a canopy bed, soaker tub and wrought iron table and chairs. I read mixed reviews of this room on Tripadvisor. When we were there last time a couple of years ago we stayed at the penthouse suite and can recommend a stay in this spacious room. I may have to try the roofless abode one time, on a warm starry night, but have to check it first. The central ‘great room” reflects the owners love of and appreciation for the eclectic. It’s a beautiful large space, central in the estate, full of old tapestries, antique furniture, paintings and comfortable sofas and chairs. This is where you may meet other guests who are staying at the B&B, over a glass of wine before you leave the property in search for dinner in town or at one of the many wineries scattered throughout the area. But not tonight. Tonight the guests could join the Joy Road catered dinner in the vineyard right on the beautiful property.
When we drove up that day, several other vehicles where already parked in front of the entrance. We walked though the main doors to the gorgeous great room. No one was there but we could hear voices in the back. We arrived at the top of the stairs leading to the gardens below and saw Dana Ewart, the chef who co-owns Joy Road Catering, speaking to a couple of guests. She greeted us and walked us to the area where dinner was to be served, in a long room at the edge of the property. Dana and her partner Cameron Smith are both chefs, trained in Toronto under chef Chris Mcdonald in what was the ultra chic Avalon restaurant on Yong street. They came to the Okanagan attracted by the food and wine of the region and proceeded to launch their catering company featuring what they call “cuisine du terroir”, borrowing the term from the wine world, meaning a cuisine with a strong sense of place. The alfresco vineyard dinners at God’s Mountain have been immensely popular and if you wish to participate (as I think you must), you have to reserve your place in the spring when they first announce their vineyard dinner schedule beginning in May.
Several guests were already there sipping a glass of sparkling Blue Mountain Brut. We were offered a glass of the stylish and well crafted fine bubbly, grown and vinified not far from where we were drinking it. It had crisp citrus notes and awakened and teased our palates in anticipation of the dinner to come. Sipping the brut from elegant champagne flutes we quickly engaged in conversation with the others. One of them was an Italian engineer in his mid 30’s on a year long visit to Canada. He came to improve his English and learn about Canada and loved the opportunity to stay and work at God’s Mountain. He was handsome and personable and that’s partly what I love about events like this: the opportunity to meet people from all over the world.
My food and travel bloggers friends Val and Laura arrived soon after, identifiable immediately by the cameras they were carrying (a sure sign of a blogger) and the three of us went outside snapping shots of the food being prepared, the view, the room etc. Lighting was not in our favour, it was fairly dark and hard to take good pictures.
Moments later a bell rang indicating that dinner was to be served. How fun to be called to dinner with a ring of a bell. It has an old world charm to it. Dinner bells were used as a call for dinner when cowboys and farm hands worked on distant fields. At the sound of the bell cowboys put down their ropes and farm hands their tools and they walked or rode back to the farmhouse for dinner at a long table laden with the cook’s daily fare.
We went inside, and settled at a long table beautifully set with crisp white linen, sparkling glassware, field flowers and grapes from the property’s vineyard. Joy Road is known for their original and impeccable table settings and being a visual person myself, I loved the looks of the crisp and festive setting. After taking in the lovely scene we introduced ourselves to our dinner companions. At one end sat God’s Mountain Estate proprietor Sarah Allen with her husband Richard and their team of dedicated staff, an international blend of people from around the globe. Seated in front of us were Martine and Ulf from Vienna. Martine is French from Bordeaux (and Spanish) but has lived in Vienna since she and Ulf got married a few decades ago. They made good dinner partners and I enjoyed hearing about Vienna (3 operas every night, several philharmonic orchestra concerts every week) and about their love of food and travel. Did you know that 7 square kms within Vienna’s city boundaries are under vine? See how much you can learn when you sit down to dinner and converse with your dinner companions? To our left, next to my friend Laura, sat an interesting new food and travel person, Tarryn Liv Parker, an art school trained photographer with interest in food who recently launched The field guide, an online magazine providing an interactive trip planner for travelling in the Okanagan. I didn’t get to speak to her much because of the seating arrangement (except for inquiring about her professional camera lens) but it was interesting to meet her all the same and I did learn a thing or two about camera lenses from her.
Dinner was lovely and served partly family style with beautiful platters of food set on the table to be passed among the guests. Appetizers were set on long wooden board along the entire length of the table, perched on a couple of bricks to raise them off the table and give them height. Do you want to drool? Here is a list of the appetizers, served with the Blue Mountain Brut.
Pain Rustic with olive Oil from Orvieto
Roasted Spanish Style olives with fennel and citrus
Baby carrots and radishes from Jordan and Venessa
A tasting of house cured charcuterie
Onion tart baked in their wood burning oven
Zucchini blossom fritters stuffed with fresh cheese
Appetizers were followed by a sparkling clear golden broth with earthy and concentrated flavours, floating with Wild chanterelles and lobster mushroom to everyone’s Ooos and aahhhs. The soup was served with Wild Goose God’s Mountain Riesling. The Riesling deserves a special mention. The grapes as you probably guessed, are grown on God’s Mountain Estate on the steep slopes overlooking the lake. The old vines, together with the cooling effects of the lake allow the riesling grapes to ripen perfectly and the wine is crisp and refreshing with apple and pear flavours coming through gently.
The Main course was paired with Pentage 2009 “Hiatus”. The Hiatus is a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon (36%), merlot (36%) and cabernet franc (29%) paired nicely with the soup, offering good balance of acidity against dark berries, cherry and a slightly spicy background. Pentage winery is located above Skaha lake with annual production of 5000 cases. The owners operators Julie Rennie and Paul Gardner produce small lot release that clearly pays off through the quality of wine we tasted. So, in the spirit of eat local and drink local, the wine we were drinking was made practically next door to where we were dining.
Shall I tell about the main and side courses? Here it is:
Braised lamb shanks
Beet greens with quince, grainy mustard & cream (I must get the recipe)
Stone ground polenta with fresh corn, parmesan and herbs
Leeks with anchovy & eggs
Heirloom tomatoes & golden zucchini gratin
A garden medley of baby greens
Being more or less a vegetarian, there was plenty for me to enjoy in this menu and I must try and replicate some of these dishes, especially the beet greens with cream and grainy mustard. The lamb was beautifully cooked and flavoured and fell off the bone (I tasted), the polenta was creamy with fresh off the cob corn kernel added and grated parmesan folded into it. A crisp on top tomato and golden zucchini gratin was fragrant with herbs (thyme? rosemary?) and the leeks with eggs (and anchovies) were beautifully braised and melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Dana stays with the guests throughout dinner, acting as hostess, explaining every dish and educating the guests about the less familiar items, such as wild lobster and chanterelles mushrooms. She holds up a bright red lobster mushroom to show the guests what went into the soup, and you can see that food means something to her in a personal way. Dana opened the dinner with a “prayer” read from one of Alice Waters’ books, telling us that this is what they do at the beginning of every dinner. It was a lovely ritual that I wouldn’t mind instituting at my own home. As the courses are presented, Dana explains where the ingredients for making the dish came from, who grows the carrots, who made the wine, how the food was cooked, even who specifically cooked it and why the dish was chosen for tonight’s dinner. Her enthusiasm is contagious and you can see that with the love they pour into their food, every bite reflects it.
We enjoyed dinner served family style as we visited, photographed (too dark, pics didn’t turn out) and enjoyed the lovely wines. Memories are made like this. Dessert soon arrived to complete the lovely evening. Peaches poached in rosé wine, orange blossom creme brulee and organic hazelnuts cookies were beautifully prepared and presented. Locally roasted coffee and fragrant mint tisane were served at the table and dark chocolate was passed around. The tisane was the real thing, must have been made from fresh mint leaves from their gardens.
The evening ended soon and the guests were retiring either to their rooms or into their cars for the trip back to where they came from. We returned to the hotel we checked into that morning and appreciated the creature comforts it offered. The next day we had breakfast in town, explored the downtown a little and soon we were boarded our sailboat Isa Lei with lunch ingredients in the fridge, ready to sail back to Kelowna. The trip back was mostly under motor, beautiful, comfortable and uneventful. We had back wind most of the way and the waves were considerable but the old gal handled them beautifully and delivered us home safe and sound. I was glad to see I still have some adventurous spirit left in me.
Overall it was a special weekend and I look forward to doing it again, perhaps staying at God’s Mountain or a nearby winery this time and definitely participating in a few of Joy Road’s dinners next summer, earlier in the season when the dinner can be held under the stars and in the fall when we can taste their fall culinary creations. I think you should as well. As Dean Martin sang, although a bit out of context “Stir carefully through the days, see how the flavour stays, these are the dreams you’ll savour, memories are made like this”.